Back when I was a lowly trainee teacher I engaged in a debate with someone high up in the local authority after a training session. They were arguing that ‘skills’ are all we need to teach young people. I argued (as a History teacher) that they didn’t know what they were talking about.
Now, however, I realise that we were both wrong.
This post by Oliver Quinlan about A.C. Grayling’s presentation at the recent Education Festival got me thinking. Especially this bit:
What we should be looking for is not the acquisition of knowledge, but the acquisition of understanding. Many schools recognise that theory of knowledge and learning about learning are supportive of the rest of the curriculum. Grayling feels that this should be at the centre of the curriculum, not as an added extra.
And then yesterday, Tim Riches tweeted me the link to this post, pointing out how scary it is that the government are preventing people from talking about ‘skills’ in a curriculum review:
Among the wilder, though double-sourced by me, rumours I’ve heard about the curriculum review were that the word “skills” was banned from any documents by ministers, simply because they wanted to emphasise “knowledge”. While I am not going to get into the knowledge versus skills debate here, suffice it to say that most university prospectuses stress the importance of both.
But then I realised. What we should be developing in young people are capacities. Skills and knowledge flow from these.
It’s what employers look for when hiring people. It’s why we have phrases like “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” We recognise that certain people have greater capacities in certain areas than others.
I look forward to seeing an education system that promotes capacities.
(oh, and when we get there, we should award badges) 😉
“Do you have a method of working?” the journalist Jean-Louis de Rambures asked Barthes in a 1973 interview for Le Monde. “It all depends on what you mean by method,” Barthes replied. “As far as methodology is concerned, I have no opinion. But if you’re talking about work habits . . . ” As he recounts his routines, we discover that the openness of his intellectual style is predicated on the exactness of his procedure. After describing in detail his preference for fountain pens over felt-tip or ballpoint, after recounting his experiments with the electric typewriter at the suggestion of Philippe Sollers, after detailing how he organizes his workplace and schedule in Paris and in the provinces, Barthes tells Rambures about his index-card system, which is based on slips of paper precisely one-quarter the size of a usual page: “At least that’s how they were until the day standards were readjusted within the framework of European unification (in my opinion, one of the cruelest blows of the Common Market).” We get the sense that he’s joking, but only sort of. Knowledge emerges out of arrangements and rearrangements of paper. Formats and protocols matter. Matter matters. “Insignificance is the locus of true significance. This should never be forgotten,” Barthes tells Rambures. “That is why it seems so important to me to ask a writer about his writing habits, putting things on the most material level, I would even say the most minimal level possible. This is an anti-mythological action.”
As regular readers are aware I suffer from migraines and so have been a looking at ways to reduce my amount of prolonged screen time. All screens area not equal, of course, and it’s mainly the length of time rather the number of ‘looks’ that makes the difference.
That’s why I’m always fascinated to find out the methods of working for people, both past and present, who were not only fantastically productive, but influential as well. In the above quotation from Barthes it’s evident that the physicality of his system made a difference in a way allied to embodied cognition.
Everyone has domain knowledge. The guy in the self-storage warehouse, the History teacher, the researcher. Anyone can gather domain knowledge. It’s based on experience. The value comes in adding value to that domain knowledge.
How can we do that?
The first way is to share the deep, specialised knowledge that you’ve got. Give it away. Know about obscure 1980s Japanese comics? Share it. Help people. Found a cheap way to fix that long-discontinued engine that a couple of people you know have been having problems with? Likewise.
The second way is equally important. Seek out new domains. Find synergies between the two domains. Find metaphors and procedures from one that fit the other. Insights come through immersion and reflection.